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How to shoot the individual images

Posted 11-18-2007 at 10:02 AM by Frank Lopes
Updated 11-18-2007 at 01:48 PM by Frank Lopes

When it comes down to it, it is a very simple process: you shoot a series of slightly overlapping images that later get merged into one large photo.

This is how I do it when shooting a classic horizontal panoramic view.

From the left to the right while keeping the camera as level as I can, I shoot the first image, slightly pivot on my right foot and shoot the next photo while overlapping the subject that was captured by the first image by about 30%.

The third image is done the same way, overlapping the 2nd by about the same amount.

An so on, until I have covered what I wanted to capture.

If you look at images A and B you will understand much better the process. Image "A" represents the scene that I want to capture, and image "B" the photo shooting sequence.

To be on the safe side, I usually capture several series: all photographed from the left to the right and all overlapping the previous photo by about 30 to 40%.

Why not from the right to left? When I started experimenting I used software that didn't have the ability to detect right-to-left sequences. So I got used to doing from left to right and I still do it that way. I also find it, when shooting "hand held" to be a more natural motion for me pivoting to the right than the left.

So now you are done shooting and the final photo will look like a million bucks... right?

Well... maybe...

There are a couple of details that you should pay attention to while capturing the sequence that will improve tremendously the odds of ending with a "wow" photograph.

The three most important ones are:
  • the overlapping
  • the exposure
  • the white balance.

The reason for properly overlapping is so the software has the ability to detect the common visual elements from photo to photo so it knows how to properly align the images. This is even more important when using a camera that has a wide angle lens.

Wide angle lenses tend to distort the periphery of photographs. That is why when you photograph a building, for example, the vertical lines look like they are converging towards the top center of the image.

So why not overlap by 50 or 60%? Because it could be an overkill for the software to deal with later on. The reason for this is due to the fact that a 60% overlap means that visual elements will appear in more than 2 images. So for your first experiments, overlap the images by about 1/3.


Today all digital cameras provide automatic exposure.
This means, depending of the amount of light available, the camera will automatically adjust its sensitivity to light (via speed, aperture and iso) to capture the image.

Without getting into photography technicalities, those three settings are responsible for you getting a properly exposed photo or not. 99% of the time we don't even think about it and, in a matter of fact, we are happy the camera is capapble of making the appropriate decisions without our intervention.

Unfortunately when shooting a panoramic view, that could be a problem.

If you look at image "B", you understand this point.

This sequence starts with photo "1" which captures the mountain and the sun coming up. The camera detecting the tremendous amount of sun light available, cuts back in its sensitivity to light so that the photo is not over-exposed.

In contrast sequence image "2", has much less light (almost no sun to deal with) and in turn the camera adjusts itself to be more sensitive to light.

when looking at these two images individually, you'll find that they are probably properly exposed, but next to each other you will see that the sky and the mountains look very different. In photo "2" there is much more detail in the moutain as well as the clouds in the sky.

These differences in exposure, will cause your software to have a hard time "blending" appropriately the transitions from photo to photo.

So how do you solve this problem?

This is where the camera types and the photographer's experience make a big difference.

First take a test photo of the brighest area of what you want to ultimately capture.
Second, lock the exposure settings of the camera at those values.

In another words, don't let the camera from that point on, adjust its exposure automatically. You in essence have switched the camera to manual eposure using an appropriate setting for the brighest areas of the composition.

Now it is just a matter of shooting your sequence as normal.

White Balance

Is a complicated topic in photography and I will not even attempt to explain it. Take a look at this link and you understand why:

Wikipedia defines White Balance as:
"the adjustment of the relative amounts of red, green, and blue primary colors in an image such that neutral colors are reproduced correctly."
A simpler way to look at it is this: warm light like a candle or a weak incandescent bulb, or a cool flurescent bulb or flash, can change the overall colors of the image creating what is ususally referred to as a "color cast".

For example, in image "B", the sun plays a much more important role in photo "1" than it does in photo "3". This will cause slight differences on how the colors are captured. Colors in image "1" would look "cooler" while the warmer colors would look much "warmer" in photo "3".

This potential color shift is obviously not a good thing when it comes time to assemble to final panorama.

This problem is solved by not letting the camera automatically change the white balance from photo to photo. Again, just as with the exposure issue, the camera type and the photographer's experience make a difference on how you go about setting the white balance to manual.
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  1. Old Comment
    CJ Swartz's Avatar
    Frank, thanks for the very clear explanation of the steps involved. I've always been impressed by well done panaramas, but never tried doing one. Now I'll know the proper steps.
    Posted 11-18-2007 at 01:03 PM by CJ Swartz CJ Swartz is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Frank Lopes's Avatar

    Thanks for the comment!

    I just posted a set of 9 images that you can use to try your first panorama.
    Posted 11-18-2007 at 02:01 PM by Frank Lopes Frank Lopes is offline

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